Political climate around elk licenses may be dark, but potential in the field is brighter than ever.
Photo by Ken Archer
What is the hottest topic in the world of elk hunting? Winter kill? Reproduction? Antler growth? Wolf de-predation? Hunter harvest?
None of the above. The number one issue is license allocation. Last summer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that hunting is commerce rather than recreation. That ruling resulted from a lawsuit, Montoya v. Shroufe, in which Lawrence Montoya, a guide for United States Outfitters (USO), filed suit against Arizona Game and Fish Director Duane Shroufe. Commonly known as the USO lawsuit, the lawsuit contended that excessive restrictions on the allocation of nonresident elk licenses hindered USO's ability to conduct interstate commerce.
Implications from this ruling have sent shockwaves through every state wildlife agency in the West. USO has filed a similar lawsuit in Nevada, which threatens to delay 2005 hunting seasons there, and other states are finding themselves in the crosshairs as well.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department's response, at least for 2005, was to eliminate online applications, require the purchase of a nonrefundable $113.50 hunting license for all nonresident applicants, and require all applicants to submit license fees up front. As another way to temper demand, Arizona is contemplating drastically increased license fees for 2006. That possibility has prompted USO's attorneys to threaten further legal action. The original lawsuit did not address nonresident discrimination through higher license fees.
The controversy has even reached Congress. Senator Henry Reid, D-NV, has introduced S. 339, a bill that affirms a state's rights to manage fish and wildlife without regard to interstate commerce regulations. Rep. Mark Udall, D-CO, has introduced an identical bill, HR 731, in the House. As of this writing, those two bills, which would counter the USO ruling, were still being run through the political meat grinder.
Still more license allocation controversy was spreading from Utah to Idaho. At press time, Utah's Wildlife Board was contemplating allocating hundreds of special hunt tags to an organization called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW is making similar proposals in Idaho and other states). Those tags for deer, elk, moose, sheep, and other trophy species would be auctioned or raffled at regional banquets with most of the proceeds going back to state wildlife agencies.
In principle that's good, because it helps fund financially strapped wildlife agencies. However, those tags would be plucked from the states' general lotteries, further reducing average hunters' chances of drawing tags. So this concept generates a complicated Catch-22.
In regard to the elk themselves, the 2005 forecast ranges from good to excellent throughout all elk states. Those hunters who can get past the political wrangling and acquire tags should enjoy some excellent elk hunting this fall.
Editor's Note: We've put together an easy-to-read state and provincial summary table in PDF document format. (Click here to read.) Be sure to continue on to the next page to read detailed state and provincial reports including contact information and website links.
ALASKA - Elk numbers are on the increase in Alaska, but only one bowhunter took a bull in 2004. Contact: Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, Wildlife Division, 211 Mission Rd., Kodiak, AK 99615; (907) 486-1880; www.state.ak.us/adfg/adfghome.htm
ARIZONA - For 2005, only paper applications will be accepted and all applicants must purchase the $113.50 hunting license. Moisture conditions are always a factor in antler growth. A wet summer = big racks. Contact: Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2221 W. Greenway Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85023-4399; (602) 942-3000; www.gf.state.az.us
ARKANSAS - The 2005 elk season will be comparable to last year's with some minor shifts in opening and closing dates. Permit numbers are the same. Contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Comm., #2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205; (501) 223-6360; www.agfc.com
CALIFORNIA - There will be 40 archery-only tags available this year. The license fee is $100, and you can purchase either a landowner or fundraising tag. Contact: California Dept. of Fish and Game, 1416 Ninth St., Sacramento, CA 95814; (916) 653-7203; www.dfg.ca.gov
COLORADO - Archery hunters can hunt both rifle and archery season with only one either-sex or bull tag and a second "extra" license in a qualifying GMU. See regs. Contact: Colorado Division of Wildlife, 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216; (303) 297-1192; www.dnr.state.co.us
IDAHO - The harvest numbers in the table are from the general season only. Controlled hunt data were not available. There are some new restrictions on motorized vehicle travel, so check regs. Contact: Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game, PO Box 25, Boise, ID 83707; (208) 334-3700; www2.state.id.us/fishgame/fish-game.html
KANSAS - A very limited season is confined mostly to Fort Riley Military Post. Bull tags are $251 for residents, $126 for landowners. Antlerless tags are $101 for residents, $51 for landowners. Season lasts three months (any weapon, with some exceptions). Contact: Kansas Dept. Wildlife and Parks, 512 SE 25th Ave., Pratt, KS 67124; (620) 672-5911; www.kdwp.state.ks.us
KENTUCKY - Hunters took 60 elk last year; archers took two. A new state record bull was taken by gun hunter Rita Tharp. It scored 310 3/8. Contact: Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources, #1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601; 1-800-858-1549; www.state.ky.us/agencies/fw/index.htm
MICHIGAN - The only significant change in this residents-only elk season will be an increase in licenses from 100 to between 120 and 150 for 2005. Contact: Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Management Section, PO Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909; (517) 373-1263; www.michigan.gov/dnr
MONTANA - Elk hunters can bypass the drawing by purchasing an outf
itter-sponsored license. The elk-only license costs $877.25, elk/deer combo is $977.25, and you must hunt with an outfitter. The general elk combo license is $640.25. Contact: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 1420 East 6th Ave., Helena, MT 59620-0701; (406) 444-2612; http://fwp.state.mt.us
NEBRASKA - The elk herd is growing in Nebraska and permit numbers will be increased for 2005. Nineteen of the 24 bulls taken (all weapons) in 2004 were 6x6 or larger. Contact: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 2200 Nth. 33rd St., Lincoln, NE 68503; (402) 471-0641; www.ngpc.state.ne.us/homepage.html
NEVADA - Odds of drawing a nonresident archery bull tag were 164 to 1 in 2004. However, the success rate for those hunters was a phenomenal 63 percent! Contact: Nevada Division of Wildlife, PO Box 10678, Reno, NV 89250; 1-800-576-1020; www.nevadadivisionofwildlife.org
NEW MEXICO - Beginning in 2005, elk hunters with bull tags will have a 5-point restriction in GMU's 4, 16, and 34. State is CWD-free so far. Contact: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, PO Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504; 1-800-862-9310; www.wildlife.state.nm.us
NORTH DAKOTA - All elk licenses in the northeastern unit will be antlerless tags for 2005. Only two 2005 hunters chose the bow-only option. Contact: North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., 100 North Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58505-5095; (701) 328-6300; www.state.nd.us/gnf
OKLAHOMA - Elk hunters must have written permission and a legal description of land from landowners to obtain a license. Harvest for all weapons types was 63 bulls and 109 cows last year. Contact: Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Game Division, PO Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152; (405) 521-2739; www.wildlifedepartment.com
OREGON - Harvest figures are from 2003. The Rocky Mountain elk population (Yellowstone) is declining while Roosevelt elk numbers are stable to increasing. Contact: Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, PO Box 59, Portland, OR 97207; (503) 872-5260; www.dfw.state.or.us
PENNSYLVANIA - This will be the fifth modern elk season in Pennsylvania. Last year, 40 hunters took 34 elk, 12 of which were bulls. This is a very limited hunt. Contact: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797; (717) 787-5529; www.pgc.state.pa.us
SOUTH DAKOTA - CWD has been found in some elk and deer, but it is not widespread. The residents-only season is essentially unchanged from 2004. Contact: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, 412 W. Missouri, Pierre, SD 57501; (605) 773-3485; www.sdgfp.info
UTAH - No major changes in the elk season were planned. Antlerless tags were greatly reduced last year to allow the herd to recover from drought. Contact: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, PO Box 146301, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-6301; (801) 538-4700; www.nr.utah.gov
WASHINGTON - No 2004 data were available at press time, but no major changes are anticipated. Harvest data are from 2003. Contact: Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091; (360) 902-2200; http://wdfw.wa.gov
WYOMING - Bowhunters accounted for 7.41 percent of the total elk harvest in 2004. Increased harvest has led to declining numbers of elk. Contact: Wyoming Game and Fish Dept., 5400 Bishop Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82006; (307) 777-4600; http://gf.state.wy.us
ALBERTA - Harvest data in the table are from 2003. No changes were planned for 2005, and nonresident aliens must use the services of an outfitter. Contact: Alberta Natural Resources Service, Main Floor, North Tower, Petroleum Plaza, 9945 108th St., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5K 2G6; (403) 427-2079; www3.gov.ab.ca/srd/index.html
BRITISH COLUMBIA - As in all Canadian provinces, nonresident alien hunters are required to book the services of a licensed outfitter. Contact: British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Wildlife Branch, PO Box 9374 Str. Prov. Gov., Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 9M4; (250) 387-9717; wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/wld
MANITOBA - A total of 859 archery hunters killed 87 elk during the 2003 season. Elk hunting in Manitoba is restricted to residents only. Contact: Manitoba Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Branch, Box 24, 200 Saulteaux Crescent, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3J 3W3; 1-800-214-6497; www.gov.mb.ca/natres/wildlife/index.html
SASKATCHEWAN - Only residents are eligible for elk licenses, and last year there were 5,184 licenses sold. No harvest data were available. Contact: Saskatchewan Environment & Resource Management, Fish and Wildlife Branch, 3211 Albert Street, Room 436, Regina, SK, Canada S4S 5W6; (306) 787-2314; www.se.gov.sk.ca